Personal data protection, case I OSK 963/09

May 13th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Supreme Administrative Court in a judgment of 11 May 2010, case file I OSK 963/09, held that an editorial office would have to disclose private addresses of the journalists it employs. Presspublica – the publisher of “Rzeczpospolita” should disclose the private addresses of those of the journalists, who its readers intend to sue in court for the infringement of their personal rights. This decision is binding on all media. The SAC referred to article 29 of the Polish Act of 29 August 1997 on the Protection of Personal Data – PPD – (in Polish: Ustawa o ochronie danych osobowych), Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) of 29 October 1997, No. 133, item 883, unified text published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) of 6 July 2002, No. 101, item 926, with later amendments.

1. In case of providing the access to the data for the purposes other than including into the data filing system, the controller shall disclose the data kept in the data filing system to persons or subjects authorised by the law.
2. Personal data, exclusive of data referred to in Article 27 paragraph 1, may also be disclosed, for the purposes other than including into the data filing system, to persons and subjects other than those referred to in paragraph 1 above, provided that such persons or subjects present reliably their reasons for being granted the access to the data and that granting such access will not violate the rights and freedoms of the data subjects.
3. Personal data are disclosed at written and justified requests, unless the provisions of another law state otherwise. Such requests should include information allowing for identification of the requested personal data within the filing system and indicating their scope and purpose.
4. Disclosed personal data shall be used only pursuant to the purpose for which they have been disclosed.

The decision is especially dangerous to media. Why? Because in a situation, where anyone can request the disclosure of the journalists’ personal data (justifying it i.e. with the intent to file a civil lawsuit against them) those journalists can find themselves in a real and tangible danger posed by the unpredictable readers, bashed by the newspaper. In the case at hand, Krzysztof W. requested the addresses of the authors of the article published in Rzeczpospolita in 2007 in order to sue them in court for the infringement of his personal rights.

The court rejected his lawsuit, requesting that the plaintiff provide the most recent residential addresses of the defendants. The publisher refused to disclose the addresses, citing the provisions of the Press Law and stressing the importance of the right to privacy. It also pointed out the alternative manners of serving the lawsuit (at the defendants’ business address). Nonetheless, the General Inspector for the Protection of Personal Data disagreed with the publisher and obliged it to promptly disclose the data in question. The VAC in Warsaw dismissed the appeal and the SAC rejected the cassation claim, stating that the readers cannot be deprived of the possibility to defend their rights before courts merely because the personal data of the infringers remains unavailable.

See also “Polish regulations on personal data protection“, “Polish case law on personal data protection